The Need to Improve

On the weekends, my intellectual father will often send an email filled with links to interesting articles he has read and music that he is currently listening to. Some of it I skim over (similar to skimming headlines in a newspaper), and sometimes I’ll find a gem and voraciously devour it and discuss the topic with him further.

This past weekend, he sent me a BBC article, Why Even The Best Feedback Can Bring Out the Worst In Us. We inherently reject criticism even if it is to our own benefits. We often automatically deflect the criticism or point out the flaws in someone else’s work in order to make ourselves feel better. By the end of the article, it suggested that we build an armor of self-esteem so that we can accept and use the criticism we face to our advantage.

This article is especially relevant for any writer or artist. The bulk of our work is receiving criticism on ‘the masterpieces’ we have produced. The successful ones instinctually know not to take the criticism personally, but use it constructively in order to hone their skills and progress in the field. The ones who do not make it (either finish a story or gain acceptance by a publisher) take the criticism personally and fall into deep despair.

In How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, he mentioned, “Many people begin their criticism with sincere praise followed by the word ‘but’ and ending with a critical statement.” For the record, I am just as guilty of this as any other reader. I have lived by the sandwich form of critiquing: mask a negative comment between two positive affirmations. Dale Carnegie countered this negative equation with, “This could be easily overcome by changing the word ‘but’ to ‘and.’ Pile on the praise and the writer will “try to live up to our expectations.” For example, a comment could be “I love the way you tried varying your sentence structure in this paragraph, and it’ll be even better when you master the rule of commas!”

When critiquing a piece of writing, I don’t know if an editor can simply not correct errors and give all praise, but Dale Carnegie makes a great point of keeping the comments more inspirational and positive so the receiver doesn’t feel weighed down by the negative commentary.

I think of critiques as valuable lessons and a way to gather more ideas for my work. The comments made on a writer’s work are purely suggestions. I think it’s important to keep in mind that at the end of the day, the writing is still yours and you can pick and choose which comments to use and which comments to trash. They are not permanent changes to your text just because it is someone else’s suggestion.

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